MEDICAL SCIENCE: by Babette FrancisNews Weekly
Media hype over cloning and embryo stem cells
, July 22, 2006
The media insists that legalising human cloning and experimentation on embryonic stem cells will lead to miraculous cures for spinal-cord injury, Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's. Babette Francis looks at the evidence.The media have exposed the fraudulent claims of Korea's Hwang Woo-suk of producing human "clones" and his coercion of women to donate hundreds of eggs. But they have given no attention to the more cruel frauds of using disabled people such as Christopher Reeves, Michael J. Fox and Victoria's wheelchair-bound Gary Allsop to promote embryonic stem-cell research which is going nowhere and which causes tumours.
The exploitation of the late US President Ronald Reagan's widow Nancy was particularly fraudulent as scientists know stem cells are not effective in treating Alzheimer's.Killing human embryos
Many journalists fail to distinguish between stem cells derived from killing human embryos - embryonic stem cells (ESCs) - and stem cells derived from ethical sources such as cord blood, cord linings, and adult tissues, collectively known as adult stem cells (ASCs). They portray the "religious right" as being anti-science, when all the cures and treatments have come from ASCs and there is not even a clinical trial in humans using ESCs.
Other journalists use the Federal Government's ban on cloning to criticise the Prime Minister. Robyn Riley recently wrote a story headlined "What hope for the sufferers, Mr Howard? Brain-drain shame" in Melbourne's Sunday Herald Sun
(June 25, 2006), followed by an emotive story about researchers leaving Australia, and the plight of those suffering from Parkinson's, heart disease, etc.
Do journalists like Riley not have access to the internet from which they could learn about 70 diseases, including heart-muscle disease, being treated by ASCs (stemcellresearch.org
), while ESCs have produced nothing but hype and tumours?
"Clones" are produced by a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) whereby the nucleus is removed from a woman's egg and replaced with the nucleus from a tissue cell from the patient. The resultant cell is not a true clone because the cytoplasm and mitochondria surrounding the nucleus are still foreign tissue from the woman who donated the egg. Embryonic stem cells are hard to control besides having a tendency to develop tumours (teratomas).
There is no excuse for journalists to ignore the successful work, conducted at Griffith University Adult Stem Cell Centre, by Prof. Alan Mackay-Sim and colleagues. Dozens of patients with various genetic diseases have had their stem cells collected from the back of their noses for research. No human embryos have been destroyed. The Griffith's team has used ASCs to treat Parkinson's Disease in rats and is planning primate trials. If all goes well, human trials will follow.
Cloning advocate, Prof. Alan Trounson, admits cloning is not about therapies for Parkinson's or spinal injury, and is limited to the modest research goal of creating patient-specific stem cells‚ for studying disease and developing drugs.
But the Griffith researchers have already achieved "patient-specific stem cells" superior to anything cloning could make, since they are free of the genetic damage inherent in cloning. These adult stem-cells are easily obtained from patients with any disease, readily transformed into the required cell type (brain, muscle, kidney, liver) and useful for genetic study of the disease and development of effective drugs. Prof. Mackay-Sim told the Lockhart Inquiry: "It is probable that such stem cell lines as these will render therapeutic cloning irrelevant and impractical."
Recently, Channel 10 aired a report of paralysed rats moving their legs after treatment with ESCs, not realising that better results in rats were achieved years ago using ASCs (Ramon-Cueto, 2000), and that ESCs cannot be used in the human spine due to their tumour-forming tendency. ASCs have now progressed to trials in paralysed humans, as reported in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine
Taxpayers' limited money should be spent only on research that is both successful and ethically sound, not on horrors that demand the creation and killing of human embryos, and the exploitation of women to obtain thousands of eggs.
Treasurer Peter Costello is to be commended for refusing to sanction such destructive experimentation. If Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu took the trouble to study this issue, he could easily challenge Premier Steve Bracks and Treasurer Brumby to a debate on their distorted vision for an ESC research facility.
Bracks is particularly misguided in threatening to break with the federal Human Cloning Prohibition Act 2002
- in which our Parliament voted unanimously to prohibit the creation of cloned human embryos to be destroyed in research.
Nothing has changed since then in the science of cloning – not even in the countries which allow cloning. Bracks has no grounds for claiming that cloning has anything valuable to offer. The hype for cloning is little more than fraud, fairy tales and the exploitation of suffering patients.
- Babette Francis, B.Sc (Hons), is co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.